11/6/06 - woody allen gets started

In today's excerpt - Woody Allen. In 1962, after a series of low level comedy-writing jobs, Allen approaches agent Jack Rollins regarding finding more writing work. Rollins, however, notes his potential as a stand-up comic and steers him that direction, thus launching Allen's meteoric public career:

" 'Woody was the shyest little bunny that ever was,' Rollins told me. ... 'Something about the guy made us crack up. He'd do [his jokes] in a monotone like a writer, not trying to presume to perform, and to us it came across hilarious. He undersold everything' ...

"[I]t wasn't just that Allen wrote funny jokes; his jokes were of a different kind from anyone else's, full of surreal concepts and funny images—like ... his joke about being raised in a home so strict that he had to be home by nine-thirty on prom night—'So I made a reservation at the Copacabana for five o'clock and I took my date and we watched them set up.'

" 'We put him in these little clubs that paid nothing, and because of his lack of cachet as a performer he would come out, and not only was the material offbeat and strange to people, but he would present it like a kid doing a show-and-tell at school. ... Not a laugh. ... Allen said '[it] took more courage than I knew I had. I worked at my own expense, financially and emotionally, going down to some godforsaken, mostly empty, club at eleven P.M. and then nobody would laugh. I wanted to die.' ...

"He found that 'what audiences want is intimacy with the person. They want to like the person and find the person funny as a human being. ... It's not the jokes that do it, it's the individual himself. The comedian has nothing to do with the jokes. It's just a great, great fallacy that turns out so many mediocre comedians and causes so much trouble. The best material in the world in the hands of a hack or someone who doesn't know how to deliver jokes is not going to mean anything. You can take the worst material in the world and give it to W.C. Fields or Groucho Marx, and something funny will come out.' "


Gerald Nachman


Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s


Back Stage Books


Copyright 2004 by Gerald Nachman


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment